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Senate Passes Budget Measure

March 12, 2004|From Associated Press

WASHINGTON — Republicans pushed a $2.36-trillion budget through the Senate early today, a package allowing lower spending and smaller tax cuts than President Bush wanted and trimming record deficits faster than he proposed.

The plan for fiscal 2005 largely follows the outline Bush sent lawmakers last month. Even so, its leaner approach reflects an election-year discomfort that conservative and moderate Republicans have expressed with red ink approaching a half-trillion dollars.

The measure was approved 51-45 after Republicans fought off a mountain of Democratic amendments. Many would have trimmed tax cuts on the wealthiest Americans and shifted money to healthcare, schools or other popular programs.

"Our good friends are after you," said Senate Budget Committee Chairman Don Nickles (R-Okla.), warning taxpayers about Democratic proposals he said would in effect raise taxes. "They're coming, coming after your pocketbooks."

Democrats said with this year's budget shortfall, projected at a record $477 billion by the Congressional Budget Office, the Republican budget called for even more tax cuts, doing too little to mop up red ink.

The only senators crossing party lines on the budget were Trent Lott (R-Miss.), who voted no, and Zell Miller (D-Ga.), who voted yes. Sens. John Edwards (D-N.C.), John F. Kerry (D-Mass.), Harry Reid (D-Nev.) and Tim Johnson (D-S.D.) did not vote.

Republicans began moving a similar plan through the House Budget Committee that would surpass the Senate's tax-cut plans and cull savings from benefits that could include Medicaid and farm aid.

Congress' budget sets ceilings for revenues and expenditures, but its details are only advisory. Actual tax and spending changes are made in later bills.

Bush has proposed taking five years to halve this year's projected deficit. The Senate plan halves shortfalls in three years with a $224-billion deficit in 2007, while the outline by House Budget Committee Chairman Jim Nussle (R-Iowa) claims to achieve the goal by 2008.

The House and Senate plans would hold most domestic programs to about last year's levels and give Bush the 7% defense increase he requested to about $421 billion.

The Senate budget would expedite $81 billion in tax reductions, $100 billion less than Bush proposed.

Few amendments survived the long day of Senate voting. On one, the Senate voted 52-43 to stop filling the government's emergency oil reserve with huge purchases critics say have kept petroleum and gasoline prices high.

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